Published on August 03, 2017

Swimmer' itch is getting under our skin


Contact: Jeri Hughes
Marketing & Community Relations
Essentia Health
(218) 828-7583

You can't see them when you step out of the water after a swim, but boy, can you feel them later.

Swimmer' itch (cercarial dermatitis) , also known as "duck itch" or "lake itch" , is microscopic parasites lurking in lake water, capable of causing a skin rash that' itchy, scratchy and uncomfortable.

The critter responsible for causing the annoying temporary rash is a flatworm with a complex life cycle. The worm begins in the intestinal lining of water animals such as ducks, geese, beaver and muskrat, according to the Minnesota DNR. The worms lay eggs inside the host animal and the animal excretes the eggs into the lake water.

The eggs then hatch and the parasites swim around in search of a snail, a second host. They live inside the snail until it releases them back into the water, where they seek yet another host. This is when they often come across a human and burrow into the skin. People aren't suitable hosts, and the parasite soon dies. But the itching is already underway, spurred by the body' immune system.

Should I seek treatment for swimmer' itch? Physician assistant Melisa Palmer who cares for patients at the Essentia Health Urgent Care and Convenient Care Clinics in Baxter and Brainerd says, "It will normally clear up on it' own, however to ease the discomfort use antihistamines, anti-itch cream or take an Epsom salt/baking soda bath. Seeking medical attention is necessary only when not alleviated by over-the-counter remedies." 

Not everyone who comes in contact with the parasite reacts. Some people show no signs of swimmer' itch. But for those unlucky souls who do, the symptoms can be quite annoying, though ultimately harmless. Red welts are a telltale sign. So is the can't-stop-scratching feeling that can last for 2-7 days.

Essentia offers three convenient locations for walk-in care 7 days-a-week when the unexpected happens: Convenient Care located at both the Baxter and Brainerd Cub Foods, respectively located at 417 8th Avenue NE in Brainerd and 14133 Edgewood Drive in Baxter. These locations are open 8am-8pm; and Urgent Care, located at the Essentia Health Baxter Clinic 13060 Isle Drive in Baxter, open Monday-Friday 8am-8pm and on weekends from 9am-4pm.

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